Sunday, August 31, 2008

End of Summer Interlude

Larry and I spent a long weekend in Lancaster County Pennsylvania recently. The purpose of the trip was to see Leon Redbone in concert at the Mt. Gretna Playhouse.

We left on Friday morning. A nice plan for a leisurely drive, stopping for a picnic of cold shrimp, cheese, bread, tomatoes; arriving in time to freshen up for dinner and then the theater.

A great plan; all went without incident until the approach to the George Washington Bridge at about 1 o'clock. And we sat. Bumper to bumper. Stop and go and mostly stop. A horrific drive.

You know we are country people. We lived for years in the small village of New Salem in western Massachusetts with its few hundred souls, a general store, library, town hall, post office and book store. Even our move to New Hampshire and a small town of 5,000 didn't alter our life style all that much.

We are not urban people. We are not accustomed to traffic tie-ups that go on endlessly for hours. But on that Friday, we sat in traffic for hours and hours and hours from the approach to bridge and into New Jersey. You know that old saw about spending a week in New Jersey one day. Well that is exactly what we did on that Friday -- at least that's what it felt like. We were on the New Jersey turnpike until nearly 6 PM. Unbelievable. Where oh where was that leisurely drive; where was that fine picnic -- it sat in the cooler getting warm as there was no time, no place, no way to get off the road and enjoy it.

In truth, we didn't get to our hotel in Lititz until after 7 PM; the show was scheduled to start at 8; we hadn't eaten; there was no time to freshen up; and we had a 20 minute drive to Mt. Gretna.

However the drive to the Playhouse was through the Amish countryside. Small tidy villages gave us our first sense of beauty. Of relaxation. Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.

Mt. Gretna is a wonderful late 19th/early 20th century resort, a former Chattaqua site with small cottages, a lake, a playhouse. The air is clean. The grounds are immaculate. Very family oriented. We loved it on sight. This was our first time seeing Leon Redbone in concert; it was his 5th season at Mt. Gretna. He didn't disappoint us: his voice is wonderful; his guitar playing is better, more skillful than I'd imagined! After the concert, we found a chinese restaurant and ordered take out for the hotel room -- at 11 PM!

On Saturday, we played in the sweet town of Lititz, visited a farmer's market and Amish shops. Had our first taste of 'burlap roasted corn on the cob' and that was a great delight. I bought 'meadow tea' - a soothing and tasty iced mint tea - from an earnest Amish family and it seemed to wash away the aches and frustrations of the previous day.

The remainder of our weekend was lovely. We stayed in the Mt. Gretna Inn on Saturday and Sunday on the third floor in a sumptuous room. The Inn serves a candle light breakfast; one of the inn-keepers is a professional chef from Johnson & Wales in Rhode Island. His signature dish is stuffed French Toast: two pieces of toast with the lightest whipped cream cheese and blueberries inside and over top a delicious maple syrup. Oh my oh my oh my ........

We met several very interesting guests at the Inn. One couple was from Mississippi, who like us had come all that way for the Redbone concert! Another couple, celebrating their 30th wedding anniversary, had just returned to the States from Africa where they were missionaries. A fascinating story!

The Inn is an arts & crafts style home built by an entrepreneur. It sits back on a broad green lawn and is fronted by a wide porch with comfortable wicker furniture. And that is where we spent Sunday after breakfast. Reading. Snoozing. Reading ........ and in the late afternoon, we headed for the lake and fresh cool mountain water. Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.

By Sunday evening I was beginning to dread the trip home: I told Larry that I was not going home if I had to go through New Jersey. So he bought an atlas and planned a return trip that headed us in a northeasterly direction towards Allentown and then up the Delaware Water Gap. Lots of green. Lots of country roads and small towns. Lots of things to look at. Places to stop and visit along the way. That route took us to Port Jervis and then onto Route 84 through Connecticut, the Massachusetts Turnpike; up Routes 495 and 95 and home to York.

Along the return journey we stopped Dingman Falls, part of the Delaware Water Gap. It was a short, easy hike into the falls and just right for stretching legs for the next leg of the trip.

These images were taken on that little hike. .. .. .. .Now this is the way I like to travel!

It is the only way - at least for a country girl!

Saturday, August 30, 2008

He Needed Me . . .

It was 1977. I was 33 years too young. And living in a small, wood-fired cottage in the foothills above the Connecticut River Valley in Massachusetts.

It was a funny sort of house, you know. Built into the side of a hill with the living room, kitchen and den on the upper floor and the bedrooms, bath rooms and laundry on the ground floor. Sliding glass doors opened onto a deck and woods. We had enjoyed all the seasons there: days spent cross-country skiing from that deck right into the woods. Packing gorp. Oranges. Apples. Enough for a day of skiing and home to a slow-cooker that eased a comforting aroma throughout the house. Our skiis were the 'old fashioned' kind that needed waxing. A small frustration to most skiers but I loved the job of figuring out the exact wax for the right temp and snow/ice conditions.

But that funny house was for sale in August of that year.

Dick my heart. My husband. The love of my life had gone to Ohio to begin a new job for a new corporation called, Guardian Unlimited, that was to be a moving force in 'cleaning' up an emptying the state institution in Columbus. Amy, my first child. My beautiful daughter just 12 years old had flown to Ohio to be with her dad when the new school year started. We had always lived in small villages and towns; in Ohio Amy would be in a large urban school and we were concerned. Starting school on the first day seemed to be the best plan so I bought an airline ticket from Hartford CT to Columbus Ohio for her. She and Dick would be staying with friends, also recent transplants from Massachusetts to Ohio until we sold our house in Massachusetts and our new house in Columbus was ready.

Really, this had been a very strange summer. Not at all typical. In June, Amy, 12 and Shelly, 15 flew by TWA from Boston to Los Angeles to spend two weeks with a favorite great aunt 'Nita. Amy was barely home when Dick left for the long drive to Columbus and the start of a new career. The morning he left, his car packed for the long trip, I stood at the door to say, 'goodbye'. I was overwhelmed by the thought that I would never see him again. More than a 'thought', it was an all-encompassing feeling, a sudden knowledge of 'alone-ness'.

I was only 19 when we married. A mere child. A slip of a girl. He was 26. And he was my life. My savior. My best friend. My only love and only lover. He loved me best. Always and ever. I thought I'd never see him again. Never feel his arms around me. . . or his lips on mine. Again. Ever.

In fact, I did make one trip to Columbus to look at real estate. We spent the weekend looking at homes in areas that frightened me, that I had no interest in living in. But I was a good scout and a faithful wife and I looked and looked and together we found a house and made a deposit and an offer.

Dialing forward to August 30 1977. I made a call to Dick late in the afternoon to report that our house had sold. An offer had been made and accepted; I had signed the papers and they were on their way to Ohio for his signature. I gleefully reported that I would soon join him and Amy. But he was too busy to talk; he said how pleased he was but that he was playing basketball with friends from work and needed to run .. .. .. to meet them for the game .. .. .. .. .. I finished up a few odd bits of work and left the office for home. It was a short drive really and I was soon there . . . in time to freshen up for dinner.

Dick's secretary had just died a sudden, sad death from cancer. She had a lover, an Episcopal minister who I had done some work with .. .. .. I knew Jack was hurting and had invited him for dinner that evening of August 30. Jack arrived on time. But I couldn't leave the house saying that I felt a strange feeling....a pain.....something......could we just sit awhile before leaving? Of course, Jack agreed.

I don't believe I was very good company that little while before the phone rang and the news that "Dick has had a heart attack". . . . "taken to a hospital". . . "stay where you are" . . . . "I will call as soon as I have more information".

There has never been one moment when I doubted that my body knew his distress. His pain. That a strong, invisible connection held us together in a mysterious, no spiritual way. That was what held me there in the house that evening.

Moments before the call came, I 'knew' he needed me. . . . but I could not help. Within a few minutes -- 30 or so? -- another call came from the hospital saying that Dick had died.